Preparing for Emergencies –
Advice to Australians in the Republic of Korea
The Republic of Korea (ROK) is a modern, developed country with sufficient infrastructure and capabilities to cope independently with most contingencies and emergency situations. The Korean emergency services are well prepared to respond – for all civil contingencies and disasters under the coordination of the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA). In such cases, the Embassy’s usual role is to liaise with the Korean authorities in determining the whereabouts of affected Australians and providing normal consular assistance.
Like all Australian missions overseas, the Australian Embassy in Seoul maintains regularly updated consular contingency plans which are based on an ‘all hazards’ approach. For the Republic of Korea, the most likely incidents which we expect might affect the Australian community include typhoons and associated flooding, transport accidents or, much less likely, a nuclear power plant accident. The impact of such events would likely be relatively localised.
The possibility of other, larger-scale contingencies such as a pandemic outbreak or military conflict between North and South Korea, are also covered in our planning - not because they are likely but because of the potential consequences of such events.
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Korean Peninsula has been divided by a de-militarised zone (DMZ) separating South Korea (the Republic of Korea) and North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). While peace has been maintained since 1953 under an armistice agreement, the two Koreas are still technically at war. The DPRK occasionally engages in belligerent rhetoric and provocative acts. Maintenance of stability on the Korean Peninsula remains a priority for the ROK Government and the international community, but the level of tensions on the Peninsula can escalate with little warning.
For all possible scenarios the best starting point for contingency planning by Australians in the ROK is to register directly with the Embassy, or on-line at www.smartraveller.gov.au. This tells us where you are and helps inform our planning in terms of numbers and locations of Australians. Don’t forget to update your registration if your details change.
The register also provides us with a conduit to deliver key messages to the community through your email address or mobile phone via SMS. In the event of a crisis, communication can be one of the most important elements in managing an orderly response. Key messages would be delivered to you using your registration details. Therefore it is crucial for our planning that Australians resident in or visiting the ROK register with DFAT and keep this information up-to-date. We would also seek to broadcast important information on the embassy (http://www.southkorea.embassy.gov.au) and DFAT (www.smartraveller.gov.au) websites, and via the Australia Network and other English language radio and TV services.
We use our travel advisory for Korea - available at www.smartraveller.gov.au - to alert Australians to any known problems and raise the level as appropriate to reflect our level of concern – from level 1 (‘exercise normal safety precautions’) to level 4 (‘do not travel’).
- the current level for the Republic of Korea is level 1 (‘exercise normal safety precautions').
Some Australian companies with representatives overseas prefer to err on the side of caution and might consider sending Australian staff or family members home if we raise the advisory to level 3 ‘reconsider your need to travel’. What you decide to do is, however, up to you.
If the Australian Government were to decide to send any of its non-essential staff and families home, or issue any other specific instructions to its staff on an emergency situation, this will also be reflected in our travel advisories and advice to the public.
Our contingency plans focus on an in-country response to all events with evacuation as a last resort. In such an event for example, we would expect that most Australians would seek to leave the country while it remained safe to do so and while commercial airlines remained an option. Early in the build-up to a national emergency situation, the ROK authorities could for example, impose martial law and commandeer public transport and prevent independent civilian movement. Any roads that might remain open would be subject to severe congestion. Airline companies might cease commercial services to Seoul early and seats would in any case be in very high demand. In such a case, the window to depart the country independently might quickly close. Those that do leave in such situations should let us know and those that remain behind should keep in close contact with the Embassy.
The Australian Government, through its consular officers, will do everything it feasibly can to assist Australians in emergency situations. This does not, however, diminish the obligation of individuals to prepare for their own welfare.
The Embassy is not an evacuation centre and is not equipped to serve as a refuge or to provide accommodation or sustenance for Australians. The Embassy would for example, only seek to assemble Australians when immediate onward movement to an evacuation centre (airport or other designated assembly site) became feasible, if it was decided that it was necessary to undertake a government-assisted departure. We would only consider evacuation if it was possible to do so safely.
We have learned from our experience from large-scale emergencies in different parts of the world that evacuation is not always the safest option. It can be more dangerous to make your way to an assembly or evacuation centre in an uncertain or hostile environment. In such circumstances, it is important to stay informed of developments, through the media or from the Embassy and DFAT/ smartraveller websites.
Sometimes, the most feasible course for Australians will be to take shelter, at home, in a hotel or other location, until the situation stabilised. Potentially, it could be several days or longer before Australian, ROK or other assistance might be able to be provided. It is important to be prepared.
• register your contact details with the Australian Embassy;
• assemble an emergency kit (see following list of recommended inclusions);
• photocopy passports and other important documents. Store copies away from home (eg. at work); and
• learn how to contact the police, fire and rescue services in Korean. Be able to provide your address in Korean.
In an emergency, when the situation could be dangerous, the best strategy is often to take cover in the relative safety of your home or other location until conditions are more conducive to safe or protected travel. You should not attempt to reach an assembly or evacuation area until you have heard through official channels that it is safe to do so. Your chances of surviving a large-scale emergency situation are enhanced if you make necessary preparations, including assembling an emergency kit at home to help you through the first days until government or other assistance becomes available.
Designate one room in your home to serve as your safehaven. It should be as far as possible from outside windows and should be easy to seal with heavy tape in order to restrict air ingress as much as possible. Additional supplies, beyond those in your evacuation kit, should be kept in your safehaven, to sustain you and your family in case of a prolonged need to stand fast.
As part of your own contingency preparations, remember that shops and other services, including banks, could be closed with little or no notice. Maintaining a contingency supply of cash, long shelf-life foods, baby foods, medications, batteries, candles as well as fuel for your vehicle etc. can be a good idea.
Emergency kits should include the following essential supplies:
- water for the family sufficient for at least a week (4L per person per day);
- food sufficient for at least a week (canned, high-energy or precooked foods preferably requiring no heat or water. Consider special dietary needs and infants).
- sleeping bag or blanket for each family member;
- cooking utensils, plastic plates/cups, can opener, paper towels, plastic wrap (to keep plates clean without washing and to help stop bleeding);
- matches or lighter;
- protective clothing and footwear for all members of the family (including underwear, rain wear, gloves, and masks - to avoid inhaling dust);
- first aid kit with instructions;
- essential medications, glasses, contact lenses, etc.;
- copies of ID cards, passports, bankbooks, insurance policies;
- cash (won and US$ in small notes; coins and phone cards for public phones);
- list of essential phone numbers; (eg. police (112), fire and ambulance (119), Embassy (02 2003 0100, DFAT Consular Emergency Hotline (+61-2 6261-3305)
- personal items such as soap, toothbrush, feminine hygiene supplies, infant supplies, towels, toilet paper, mosquito repellent;
- paper and pen, map of local area;
- string, adhesive tape;
- backpack for storage of emergency kit items;
- vinyl ground sheet;
- portable battery-operated radio, with spare batteries (emergency information available in Seoul including in English on AFN-K (1530AM, 102.7FM – frequencies vary in other parts of the country) or TBSe 101.3FM;
- torch, with spare batteries; and
you should also have a separate emergency kit in your car that includes basic essential items such as water, high-energy biscuits, copies of ID cards and passports, a list of essential phone numbers, a map, and a first aid kit.
Other matters you should think about and discuss with family members as part of your preparations include:
•decide how and where your family would reunite if separated
•be aware that mobile phone communications could be disrupted during emergencies
•for those with children at school, be familiar with the school\'s evacuation plans.
One of the most important things you can do when you reach a safe location is to call home as soon as possible to let your family and friends know you are safe.
Further information on preparing for emergencies can be found on-line at the Emergency Management Australia website at: www.ag.gov.au.